/ April 16, 2021

Crime Victim Assistance Program: Always on call

Jailene Panarella works with survivors of sexual violence and abuse in the Special Victims Division of the Crime Victim Assistance Program (CVAP). When Jailene’s caseload decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Panarella didn’t slow down—she went into overdrive to support survivors’ emerging needs.

For many survivors, recounting their story to a police investigator can bring up difficult memories and feelings. As a Senior Advocate, Ms. Panarella typically offers to meet survivors at precincts before they speak with an investigator. She explains the process to them and often sits with them during their interview. After the interview, Ms. Panarella helps them process their feelings. She also helps them navigate the criminal justice process, engage them in safety planning, refers them to counseling, helps them with practical resources like new locks for their home, and assists in applying for victim compensation.

During the COVID-19 crisis, social distancing protocols kept Ms. Panarella from sitting with survivors during interviews at precincts. But that didn’t stop her. She began to “accompany survivors” over the phone. She worked with a Brooklyn precinct to help manage the increased volume of domestic violence cases they were seeing. And she continued to follow up with the sexual assault clients she’d assisted before the pandemic, sometimes reaching out on a daily basis.

Ms. Panarella understood that the COVID-19 pandemic was contributing to stress and trauma, and she made sure her clients knew she was there for them.

“Jailene will always pick up the phone if someone calls her,” said Carmen Fleming, Senior Manager, Special Victims Division within CVAP. “She will do whatever is asked of her and whatever she can to help. She really, really believes in what she’s doing and really cares about the partnership with the police. She emanates so much passion for the job. That’s such a positive quality in this line of work.”

From Ms. Panarella:
“Growing up in New York City’s Public Housing, I have not only seen but have personally experienced many injustices throughout my life. My passion is to help people by listening to their stories, giving them options to find ways to support themselves, and voicing their concerns when they feel like their voices have been taken away, which is what continues to drive me to do this work.”

AT A GLANCE: Crime Victim Assistance Program

• Victim advocates in 77 precincts, 9 Police Service Areas
• Advocates offer:
o Crisis and supportive counseling
o Safety planning
o Advocacy to schools, employers, creditors, and
landlords for accommodations
o Assistance applying for victim compensation o Referrals to individual or group therapy o Referrals to legal and social services

• Over 165,000 people have received support or services
• 93% of victims report feeling safer physically and/or emotionally after receiving Crime Victim Assistance
Program assistance
• 75% of victims served by the Crime Victim Assistance Program are people of color